A business named one of the Best Places to Work in Maine created a hostile work environment for one of its long-time Native American employees, an investigator found.
Jason Brown, Penobscot, said his former employers, Day’s Jewelers, subjected him to racial slurs as well as offensive images of people playing Indian.
“They were always calling me ‘big Indian,’” Brown told ICTMN.
Recently, the Maine Human Rights Commission voted unanimously to uphold the findings of an investigator who concluded there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Brown was, indeed, subjected to discrimination by his boss, the Day’s Jewelers co-owner, Susan Sharon of MPBN News reported.
Brown, who worked for the company for seven years, said his bosses would offer him liquor and make wisecracks about Indians and “fire water.” Brown added that on at least one occasion his former boss used the N-word.
“He never used that term toward me, [but] they used it in the work place,” he said.
Brown also alleges that the co-owner of the company would use the word “squaw,” which is a truncated derivative of the Eastern Algonquin term “shunksqaw” which settlers used to refer to Indian women.
Fifteen years ago, then-Governor Angus King signed a bill into law to rename several of the state’s mountains and lakes and other locales that were named after the offensive word.
Stephen Langsdorf, an attorney for Day's Jewelers, told MPBN that the co-owner of the company did not know the term was offensive, and that they have only jested with Brown.
"The company believes that whatever he is upset about is, at worst, a misunderstanding," Langsdorf said. "They really had a great relationship with him and any types of comments that were made to him were absolutely joking and not meant to offend him in any way."
“I would say if they’re truly my friends they’d know not to say such things to me,” he said.
According to Brown, Native Americans who live in Maine still have to deal with anti-Native American racism.
“What I find is when we try to start speaking up for ourselves that’s when people’s true colors show,” he said.
Brown is now a self-employed artist and jeweler.